OTTAWA – Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is taking pre-emptive action to squelch any speculation he may be preparing to depart in the next cabinet shuffle.
The minister’s chief spokesman, Dan Miles, says there is no question Flaherty is committed to staying until the budget is balanced in 2015.
“I had lunch with him on Saturday and he was crystal clear with me that he has no intentions of leaving and he plans to advance the economic agenda of the government over months and years,” Miles said.
The puzzling element of the statement, which Miles made to several media outlets, is that it needed to be said at all. Flaherty, 63, has repeatedly stated he wanted to remain at his post until he accomplished his mission to balance the budget, with 2015 as the target date.
In the March budget, Flaherty made balancing the books the top priority, doubling down on austerity and restraining spending even though prospects for economic growth, and government revenues, had moderated from the previous year.
However, rumours persist that the minister’s serious skin condition, which causes him pain and sleepless nights, might drive him to leave office early. To combat the condition, Flaherty has been prescribed a steroid medication, which has led to weight gain and bloating around the face and neck.
As well, it has been noted that the finance minister has not been present in the House of Commons as often as in previous years, and that he has been less accessible to the media.
Miles says with rumours swirling about a major cabinet shuffle over the summer, he reached out to the media because he did not want any uninformed speculation about Flaherty.
Health is not a concern, he said.
“He’s feeling better, he’s invigorated,” Miles said.
“As the shuffle talk starts to heat up, there will be all sorts of speculation. Finance is not in play.”
The final decision on cabinet positions rests with the prime minister, Miles added, but if any change is made in the government’s top department, it would not be at the request of the minister.
Most observers believe it unlikely Stephen Harper would jettison one of his most dependable and strongest ministers soon after the departure of Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, who leaves for England next week, and while the economic recovery remains fragile.
Flaherty has been in the post since the Conservatives first came to power in January 2006.
Flaherty is widely believed not to be interested in seeking re-election in the scheduled vote for the fall of 2015, one reason he has publicly tied his political timeline to the balanced budget target.